(Intellectual) Property is Theft!

I’m in the midsts of one of those unavoidable grad student extended crises this month so I I thought writing something this week was going to be out of the question. But last Monday I had an interaction with a PDF that I really need to tell someone about. Trust me, its more interesting than it sounds.

Lately, I’ve been taking advantage of my institution’s (appropriately ancient-sounding) ILLiad Inter-Library Loan System. Usually, if I can’t find journal article I need, I just ask a fellow grad student friend over GChat or Facebook to get me the article from their library. If I can’t find anyone (or I’ve asked them too many times) I resort to ILLiad. Getting a book from ILLiad means waiting about 24 hours for an undergrad on work study to copy and paste a DOI and send me the article under another institution’s journal subscription. It is the ultimate exercise in artificial scarcity: A teenager in a library basement, fueled on Moe’s burritos and motivated by the threat of crushing student debt, orchestrates the transfer of a few ones and zeroes in such a way that my desire for the article can be monetized to the benefit of a publishing company’s CEO and a couple of computer system designers. The physical scarcity of a paper journal is transmuted into a new kind of scarcity: the scarcity of student labor and my own dedication to reading this article that I saw in someone else’s bibliography. (more…)

The Entire University of California System went Open Access

As someone working out of a Science and Technology Studies (STS) Department, I was proud to see that Dr. Chris Kelty (Author of Two Bits) had just won a major battle for open access. Kelty is an excellent example of the kind of scholar that reflexively applies the findings of his scholarship to the everyday concerns of his job. As an Associate Professor of Information Studies at UCLA, he studies open source communities and concepts of responsibility in scientific research. As the chair of the UC University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication (UCOLASC), he just spearheaded one of the largest windfalls for open access publishing.

On July 24, 2013 the University of California Senate approved a state-wide Open Access Policy that will, according to the press release, make all “future research articles authored by faculty at all 10 campuses of UC… available to the public at no charge.”  This is a huge step forward for the Open Access movement because, as the press release goes on to say,  (more…)

Grad Students are Ruining Everything

Here is a list of skills that, as a grad student at one time or another, I’ve been expected to have with absolutely no offered training whatsoever:

  • Creative writing
  • Public relations writing
  • Typesetting
  • Sound engineering
  • Videography
  • Photography
  • Graphic design
  • Web design
  • Film editing
  • Institutional procurement
  • Professional event catering
  • Conference planning and management
  • Brand representation on social media
  • Copy editing
  • Public speaking
  • Managing a grade book
  • Learning content management systems
  • Advanced settings and features of Excel

These skills are not optional for me. I cannot expect to be competitive in the Ph.D job market without possessing at least three quarters of these skills. Through trial and error and the mutual aid of fellow grad students and sympathetic junior faculty (who know what its like and help in spite of the fact that this kind of service won’t go towards tenure) it all gets figured out, but there’s a serious, unsustainable problem here. Don’t get me wrong, there are much more egregious workplace abuses happening around the world, and enjoy an immense amount of privilege in society just by saying that I’ll probably have a Ph.D in a couple of years. I am not claiming that my challenges are the same caliber that fast food workers and Wal-Mart employeeshave recently started to fight against, but there are some important intersectionalities at play here. Namely, the ill-defined role of the grad student replaces well-paying jobs with privileged students that can afford to work for little money until they are credentialed enough to maintain a destructive status quo. 

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The Mendeley Dilemma

I really love putting things in order: Around my house you’ll find tiny and neat stacks of paper, alphabetized sub-folders, PDFs renamed via algorithm, and spices arranged to optimize usage patterns. I don’t call it life hacking or You+, its just the way I live. Material and digital objects need to stand in reserve for me, so that I may function on a daily basis. I’m a forgetful and absent-minded character and need to externalize my memory, so I typically augment my organizational skills with digital tools.  My personal library is organized the same way Occupy Wall Street organized theirs, with a lifetime subscription to LibraryThing. I use Spotify for no other reason that I don’t want to dedicate the necessary time to organize an MP3 library the way I know it needs to be organized. (Although, if you find yourself empathizing with me right now, I suggest you try TuneUp.) My tendency for digitally augmented organization has also made me a bit of a connoisseur of citation management software. I find little joy in putting together reference lists and bibliographies, mainly because they can never reach the metaphysical perfection I demand. Citation management software however, gets me close enough. When I got to grad school, I realized by old standby, ProQuest’s Refworks wasn’t available and my old copy of Endnote x1 ran too slow on my new computer. So there I was, my first year of graduate school and jonesing heavily for some citation management. I had dozens of papers to write and no citation software. That’s when I fell into the waiting arms of Mendeley.

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